Location: Cloud Pond
Greg began south again at first light, which here comes at around 5:00am. The sun had not yet risen, but this far north, gray light appears hours before sunrise. I left the lean-to before Tim and Eric. The day began beautifully. I knew that I wouldn’t have water for the last five miles of the day, so I stopped to purify a few liters to last me until Cloud Pond. I crossed Columbus Mountain early in the day. Third Mountain was difficult to climb, and I stopped at the summit for lunch. I could see clouds moving in from the south, but they seemed innocent enough. With the sun on my face, warm and clear, I napped with my pack on the rocks. Much time later, the sound of hiking poles hitting rocks woke me up. Yael (Ya’el), a college girl from Asheville, NC, clicked up the rocks behind me. She hiked in crocs because her boots gave her blisters. She said Tim and Eric were about an hour behind her. She continued on, and I continued about half an hour after she left.
When nearly to the summit of Fourth Mountain, the rain began to fall. I could hear thunder in the distance and I questioned crossing the top of the mountain for fear of lightning. After a few minutes considering the situation, realizing I was out of water, I quickly and safely crossed the mountain and began the descent. I couldn’t find water in the valley. At least, I couldn’t find a safe source of water, so I continued up the next mountain, Barren Mountain, in the rain.
Suddenly I realized that my breath was visible. I stopped and felt that temperatures had dropped from the 70’s and into the 50’s. The rain became painfully cold as the forest came alive with a new sound. Grape-sized hail began to rip through the leaves in the trees and pelt the ground. The hail clipped my knuckles and ears and thumped my head through my hat. I ran for cover, but there was no cover to be found in the trees. I kept running, uphill, couched and in pain. I came to a rock face of fallen boulders and I tucked into a crack and put my pack above my head. The hail continued to fall mercilessly, nipping my knuckles as I held my pack above my head and pelting my exposed lower back. The thunder and lightning arrived and began striking and banging overhead. The thunder shook the rocks and rattled my head.
As the storm subsided and continued to the next mountain, I remained under my pack. Once the hail stopped, I decided to have a snack. Despite the rain, I climbed on my pack in the lightning strike position, with no body parts touching the ground. I listened to the storm move away. Occasional lightning and thunder struck close, but the storm definitely was moving away because the rain slowed. When I counted the lightening 10 miles away from me and moving in the opposite direction as I would be, I decided to cross the mountain. Near the top of the mountain, the trail ran across open rock faces, so I ran across them also. I was moving quickly across the ridgeline when I came to a ledge that would require me to climb down with both hands.
As I stood at the top of the rock, searching for the best line of descent, lightning split the tree next to me. The blue flash blinded me and the thunder deafened me. The thunder forced my hands to my ears and I screamed. Completely disoriented, my body was falling off the ledge and my face hit the muddy puddle first. I rolled onto my pack and wrapped my arms around my knees. The rain stung my eyes and helped return my senses. My poles still in my hands, face caked in mud, I rolled and ran. With long strides, no pain, I bounded for the tree line. I threw my pack into a low nook between rocks and trees and crouched on it. My heart beat louder than the thunder and it didn’t settle for the hour that I refused to step off the safety of my pack. I thoroughly checked for blood because I thought I’d been hit. I’ve luckily learned to stay in the valley when thunder sounds. No more chances I’ll take, regardless of the time or mileage lost.